Thunder Down; Wolves win 99-93

Thunder Timberwolves Basketball

Clutch machine, JJ Barea

Three Positives: 

Jonah: JJ Barea was the savior in the fourth, and because all that happened later in the game, in big moments, it’s fresher in our minds. But take a trip back to the first half, where Alexey Shved was blowing minds up. He was indeed the reason the Wolves got off to such a hot start against the Thunder. Doing his best Rubio impression on national television, Shved was doing everything right, including hitting Kevin Love in stride on his early three-pointers.

Derek: We’ll forever know this as the Barea game. Ok, we won’t, but he played a big part in holding off the Thunder’s late charge with a personal 8-0 run of his own that included a couple big threes and a strong take to the hoop. In just 23 minutes Barea put down 18-4-2 on the reigning Western Conference champs. When a team is shorthanded like the Wolves were tonight, they need performances like this from guys like Barea.

Tom: Rick Adelman. “It’s important, but I would like to see us get to a point where this is not a big deal. It’s a big game against the best team, but this is something we can do.”

I’m sure Adelman is, in part, trying to keep his team from a big letdown against the Knicks, but I think this quote also speaks to why he signed on with this team last year. He wanted to coach a team that could win big games like this, and he saw the potential in Minnesota’s core. He knew that it could get to the point where winning games like this would be the norm. That’s a pretty encouraging thought.

Also: Alexey Shved was awesome and I have the warm fuzzies.

Three Negatives: 

Jonah: Nikola Pekovic had himself a game. You’d think that if there were just a couple of guys in the league that could guard him that list would include Kendrick Perkins. But instead Pek constantly battled for position, took a stern pass in the post and then went to work. The only problem was that he should’ve easily gone 16-18, instead of 10-18. As soft as he is around the rim, he still sees a lot of layups rattle in and out.

Derek: Not to pick at nits here, but shooting your free throws at less-than 70% is not good. Those are easy points that could’ve made this game much less close had they made more. Likewise, OKC made nearly 85%, and that kept them in it despite an off shooting night.

Tom: In such an awesome game (and since Derek covered the free throw shooting), my negative is going to be that JJ Barea keeps making me look alternately stupid and also stupid. When I say Barea played well, he plays badly in the next game. When I say he sucks, he follows with a strong performance. So JJ, you played very something. You were something. I was impressed with your something, and you should work on your something. Go work on those things. YOU’RE WELCOME.

Three Observations: 

Jonah: Despite picking up five fouls by the end of the game, the Wolves found their defense against the weapon of mass scoring that is Kevin Durant. Andrei Kirilenko was brilliant on defense tonight. It wasn’t up to par with his usually stat-filled box score, but if you watched the game you could see how AK was getting physical with Durant, moving him out of his scoring positions and held him to 1-4 from downtown. You don’t need to accumulate steals and blocks to become a great one-on-one defender. It’s all about how you force your opponent into uncomfortable place. There’s no stopping Durant — that’s for sure — but AK’s defense did just enough to make him uncomfortable and put up some bad shots in big parts of the game.

Derek: So what if the Thunder were missing Kevin Martin? You could call it an off-night if you’d like, as well. Although I didn’t see every attempt, I’m going to give the Wolves some credit for holding the Thunder to a dismal 5-20 from deep. It’s almost a Freaky Friday situation where the Timberwolves make threes and the Thunder don’t. We really saw the effects of good and bad free throw shooting tonight.

Tom: It’s a bummer seeing Rubio have 3 assists and zero points in 18 minutes. Not because we expect more from Rubio at this point, but because we DON’T expect more from Rubio at this point. After all of the build-up surrounding his return, it’s hard to remember that he is still playing on a surgically repaired knee and he isn’t going to be 100% for quite some time. Fans will be understanding (since how could you yell at that face?), but that doesn’t make it any easier to stomach his slow recovery.

Next up: Wolves cap off this awfully tough three game stretch — First Miami, then OKC — in New York on Sunday evening to take on the red-hot Knicks.

About Derek James

In addition to writing for Howlin' T-Wolf, Derek James writes about basketball Hardwood Paroxysm in the ESPN TrueHoop Network and covers the Charlotte Bobcats for SB Nation’s Rufus on Fire. Andray Blatche and Isaiah Rider follow him on Twitter.